Monday, September 26, 2005

Blue Rose

Blue Rose

Blue Rose (2000)

From The Quest for the Blue Rose:

1. The quest for the blue rose has almost become a holy grail to rose breeders. Why?

I think that initially that it was a scientifically exciting thing to do and something totally different so that it captured people's imaginations. It was also something that was apparently impossible to do by using conventional breeding techniques. Another incentive was the fact that there are very few true blue cut flowers and breeders were very interested in developing a long-term cut flower that was blue.

2. Why does the blue rose remain so elusive?

This is the result of one basic situation. Plants have various colour pathways that determine the way in which colour is specifically expressed in petals. While scientists can extract a gene from one plant where the colour expression in the petals is blue, when inserted into roses, this colour expression changes to pink. The reason for this is the pH of the cells. For example if you insert a blue gene from petunias which have a cell pH which is more acidic than roses into the rose DNA, it forms a pink pigment. If we try to change the genes that determine cell pH, then we risk changing a whole range of other cell functions as well. Changing the pH so that the gene is expressed as blue petals may change other characteristics, and these may alter the plant significantly in a range of ways. It may be blue, but it may not be a rose as we know it.

3. What are the rewards for those who first successfully bring a true blue rose on to the market?

In the past five years there has been a significant change in the industry's view of this. Five years ago, it was estimated that a blue rose would be able to capture 5% of the international cut flower market -- a prize worth many millions of dollars annually. However in recent years the production of cut flowers has moved to Third World countries in South America and Africa (Kenya for example), due to the lower costs of production and labour, as well as to countries such as Israel.

South America and African producers now account for something like 70% of cut flower rose production. The problem for rose breeders is that these countries tend not to be very tidy about royalty payments. This means that the breeders who develop the blue rose may have difficulty in recouping their costs and making the expected profits from their research because of the difficulty in collecting royalty payments from the growers. This problem has become so significant that many North American cut-flower breeders have made the decision not to breed any more new roses at all. For this reason it is unclear just what the rewards for developing the blue rose are any more.

Hold on you damasking alchemists. The end is near blooming. From Telegraph:

It is the "Holy Grail" of horticulture and soon it could make the perfect present for Mother's Day: scientists have found a way to produce a blue rose.

A chance discovery in a laboratory means that they will be able to create the blue rose "within a year" and it is expected to go on sale to the public soon after that.

Rose breeders and growers said that blue roses would be hugely popular and estimated that they would win five per cent -- £35 million -- of the £700 million international market for cut roses.

Roses come in many colours - from pink to yellow, peach and red - but, until now, no one has found a way to create a natural blue rose and the quest has acquired an almost mystical significance among breeders.

The discovery was made by chance by two biochemists conducting research into drugs for cancer and Alzheimer's in a medical laboratory at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.

Professor Peter Guengerich and Dr Elizabeth Gillam were trying to find out how the human liver breaks down drugs when they came across a liver enzyme that had a startling effect.

"When we moved a liver enzyme into a bacterium, the bacterium turned blue," Dr Guengerich said. "We were aware that there were people in the world who had been interested in making coloured flowers, especially a blue rose, for a number of years.

"Dr Gillam had the bright idea that we could capitalise on our discovery by moving the gene into plants -- and produce a blue rose."

Maybe so. But you better check under the hood petals. Is there a Made in Japan sticker? From the Japan Times Online:

Distiller and beverage manufacturer Suntory Ltd. said Wednesday it has developed the world's first blue roses with Australian firm Florigene Ltd.

Suntory officials said researchers extracted the gene that produces blue pigment in pansies and activated it inside the roses.

There are already "bluish" roses on the market, but these flowers were created through crossbreeding and cannot be called true blue, according to Suntory. The gene of the enzyme that produces the blue pigment, delphinidin, is not found in rose petals to begin with.

Thanks to biotechnology, the petals of Suntory's blue roses contain nearly 100 percent of the blue pigment, it said.

Suntory and Florigene, which is 98.5 percent Suntory-owned, bred a blue carnation using the same basic technology in 1995.

The carnations were marketed in Japan, North America and Australia under the brand Moondust, according to the firm.

Oh death rose. Where is thy sting hue...?

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is so beautiful that it reminds me of the last paintings of Max Ernst.

cruelanimal said...

To Anon:

Quite a compliment. Thanks. I like Ernst -- especially his collage work.

MOMA has some of his art online -- for readers who might be interested.

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